Fashioning Furniture for Children
Sameera Ameer
Founder of Wild Child Designz in Dubai

Making her mark in a very male dominated industry, children’s furniture designer Sameera Ameer is adept at holding her own. Based in Dubai, Sameera is emerging as a notable children’s furniture designer. A graduate from the Chelsea College of Art and Design and the Academy of Design, Sameera founded Wild Child Designz, a bespoke furniture line aimed specifically at children along with providing a high end interior design service. Having launched her initial collection in 2014, Sameera has handcrafted unique pieces which capture and ignite the fantastical imagination of children. Working hard to be a role model for her two young daughters, it is to the credit of this young mumtreprenuer that she has launched her own successful business in a male dominated environment in the Middle East. With plans of going global, Sameera is breaking the mold and blazing a trail in her chosen career.

Text Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Why did you decide to launch a business designing children’s furniture?

In university I worked on several projects that involved interior design for children. The process involved interacting and working closely with young kids and I realised just how much I enjoyed designing for that age bracket, as opposed to adults. Then when I had my own daughters, I could not find furniture for their rooms that was unique, modern and durable other than the standard identikit Ikea and Pottery Barn pieces. So I jumped on the opportunity to fill that gap with Wild Child Designz.

Have you had any previous design experience?

My background is in interior design. I studied for two years in Sri Lanka - where I grew up - and two years in London at Chelsea College of Art and Design. In between I had a few internships, both back home, as well as in London. I got pregnant as soon as I graduated from Chelsea College and went on to be a full-time mum, until I launched my business in 2014. There is nothing like being a mum to prepare you for entrepreneurship!

How difficult was it to get your products into the market?

Getting my products into the market was not my initial goal. I wanted the business to grow organically and at a pace that I could manage around my children’s schedule. Initially I had many private clients and this allowed me to gain a wealth of experience before I was able to devote myself to the business full time. I then went on to design a nursery in Dubai’s Umm Suqeim area. Here I designed the interiors as well as bespoke furniture for the nursery’s 10 classrooms. A couple of years after launching WCD, I went on to sell on Mumzworld - Dubai’s leading online platform for all things baby and child. My furniture is also available at Level Kids, a high-end Middle Eastern department store dedicated to children. I would say a mixture of hard work, perseverance and having the right contacts helps. I also find that in Dubai, homegrown businesses are greatly encouraged and supported.

In a male dominated environment like Dubai how are you viewed as a female businesswoman?

In the design field, be it in Dubai or elsewhere, we female designers constantly have to deal with male contractors and manufacturers. Although I cannot deny that it is extremely challenging at times, once you eventually build a rapport with them, they come to respect you and working together then becomes a lot more manageable. Although the Arab world and UAE have a male chauvinistic reputation, it is not really like that when you live and work here. Yes, as a woman you come across many challenges dealing with men and all the red tape here, but they do appreciate talent and support female entrepreneurs as a whole.

Who does the manufacturing of your designs?

I use a couple of local manufacturers and although the prices are significantly higher when locally produced, the short lead times and ability to quality control make up for that. I find the smaller factories that are family run are more passionate, paying much more attention to detail. In the end they have been significantly more reliable than the larger factories, at least when it comes to handling bespoke orders such as mine.

What is your source of inspiration?

Without trying to sound cliché, my two daughters are my biggest inspiration. The light and love they bring into my life helps me to create from within my higher self, from an almost elated spirit of design. When designing, I try to tap into my subconscious memory bank of all places I have travelled, childhood memories, favourite comics, animations and memorable books. This is where my creativity stems from. Creativity ensures you have a USP and always give your customers a reason to come back, as the possibilities are endless with a bespoke service. Innovation is based on knowledge and so you need to continually expand your knowledge base. Thinking outside the box and getting creative in terms of finding solutions to design challenges is vital for a small business such as mine.

What materials are your products made from?

They are largely made from MDF and then finished in PVU paint finish. The reason I use MDF as opposed to solid wood is because most of my furniture is white and the shapes and designs are cut using CNC machinery. Therefore MDF is the most sensible option as wood tends to warp and crack in the humidity and does not allow for the clean lines that my deigns are based on. However if a client requests solid wood, we can accommodate that too.

How much of input do customers have in the design process?

The very nature of a bespoke service means that my customers are quite involved in the whole process. They come to me with themes and ideas and it’s my job to translate those into a workable and unique piece of furniture. Firstly, I set up an initial client meeting to show them my samples and understand their requirements. Then we go on to meet in their home so I can measure spaces and perhaps meet with their children to get a feel for what they would like. I then give the client an estimate for the item/project costs as well as a production time frame. If the client is happy to go ahead, I go on to design a couple of options. Once the design is confirmed, it takes around three to four weeks until delivery.

What sets your brand apart from the rest of the competition in Dubai?

What sets my brand apart from the rest of the competition in Dubai’s market is the distinctive designs. »» I strive to remain exclusive and clients know they can come to me for my concept and I can add on designs and finishes that are specific to their child’s interests. Unless you can prove your business is unique you cannot target your sales efforts successfully. Taking risks is part of the creative process, and through this process you find out what customers are most in need of practically, and what they gravitate to naturally in an aesthetic sense.

How do you sustain your business?

I think it is important to keep your finger on the pulse, always staying on top of market trends and most importantly, adapting to changes in the market. Since I offer interior design services as well as have my children’s furniture brand, I get to oscillate between the two. When one is slowing down I focus on the other. Like everything in life, sustaining a business also requires the ability to adapt with market highs and lows.

Can you describe your target market?

My target market is parents who want a unique and bespoke furniture and interior design service for their kids, as well as high-end pre-schools in the UAE who want a nursery designed specifically to their needs and themes. I found through my research that there was a growing need for original and whimsical pieces of furniture. Parents in the UAE are enticed by the notion of owning a one-off piece or something that very few people have, and this is something that I strive to provide in the market.

What new ideas for your business do you have in the pipeline?

I am always working on new designs but finding the right manufacturer is always a challenge. At the moment I am looking into an all-acrylic line. It will be colourful, lightweight, versatile and multi-functional. Beyond that my goals are endless. I plan on branching out into many more aspects of kids’ interiors. There is such a gap in the UAE market, even though there are few great stores popping up here and there.

How do you manage your life as a mum of two and a mumtreprenuer ?

As a working mum you never feel like you are on top of everything. Sometimes you spend more time on work than you would like to and sometimes the kids’ busy schedules take up a lot of time, it’s really a game of give and take between the two. But I would say being organised helps - lists, lists, lists and an uber up-to-date calendar. Also, I have a lot of extended help from family. It also helps that they are in school most of the day. It is important for me to set an example for my girls, that we must chase our dreams and if you have the right mindset it is possible to have it all!